The Montreal Canadiens are struggling right now, and the Boston Bruins just made one of the best coaches in the NHL available by cutting ties with Claude Julien last week.
On Tuesday, the Canadiens hired Julien, but don’t go connecting those dots too fast.
The Canadiens dropped a bombshell by announcing they had fired Michel Therrien and replaced him with Julien, exactly one week after Boston dismissed the longtime bench boss. However, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said Wednesday at a press conference that he didn’t necessarily make his decision based on the fact that Julien suddenly became available.
“I just felt like we weren’t playing the way we were capable of,” Bergevin said before stressing, “I didn’t make my decision based on how Boston operates.”
However, the timing certainly seems to indicate otherwise.
What’s not up for debate is Bergevin’s assessment of how his team has played in the recent days and weeks. After starting the season 13-1-1, the Habs are just a tick above .500 since that hot start. Things got even worse in the last few weeks. After winning three straight to start the new year, Montreal has lost 12 of 18 games, including six of its last seven. While the Canadiens still hold first place in the Atlantic Division, they clearly were trending the wrong way.
It just so happened that, as the Canadiens were free falling, the Bruins floundered. Bruins GM Don Sweeney saw a window to give his team a kick in the pants and did so by firing Julien last Tuesday. Some criticized the timing of the move — Sweeney addressed reporters as duck boats rolled down the streets of Boston celebrating the New England Patriots’ fifth Super Bowl win — but Sweeney stressed the move was made in order to give interim coach Bruce Cassidy two days to start implementing changes.
The Bruins then won three consecutive games, as Julien waited for his next opportunity. It didn’t take long. At some point between last Tuesday and this Tuesday, the Canadiens reached out to the Bruins for permission to talk to Julien, which is something any and all teams must do despite the fact the Bruins fired Julien. The Bruins obviously granted that permission, setting up conversations between Julien and Bergevin about the vacancy.
The two actually were able to build on casual conversations they had at the World Cup of Hockey before the 2016-17 season began. Bergevin mentioned those non-business talks Tuesday, saying he came away with a dazzling first impression of Julien. From there, it sounds like the process of hiring Julien wasn’t very difficult.
“I knew Claude was a good man, a man of integrity, and his track record speaks for itself,” Bergevin said Tuesday.
It doesn’t hurt that Julien has experience in Montreal. The French-speaking coach broke in with the Habs nearly 15 years ago (coincidentally replacing Therrien), and he spent two-plus seasons behind the Montreal bench.
Bergevin called Julien a “superstar,” believing the coach “learned a lot” in his first stint with the Habs. The GM also was asked what makes Julien such an attractive candidate.
“Credibility. Experience,” Bergevin said. “Being here before in this market, you mentioned the Stanley Cup (he won with Boston), he’s a proven winner.”
Now it’s on Julien to help Montreal get back to being a winner.
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Sousa/USA TODAY Sports Images